Dr. Lakith Peiris Ph.D. is Managing Director of Hemas Hospitals and is also President of the Association of Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes (APHNH) in Sri Lanka. Dr. Peiris sat down with us to discuss COVID-19, the response to it by the hospital chain he heads and why it is vital that routine healthcare and treatment for NCDs be carried out without interruption.
COVID-19 hit our country unprecedentedly. How did Hemas Hospitals, as a leading player in the healthcare industry, respond to the pandemic?
When the first wave hit early last year, the government diverted its healthcare systems to fight the COVID-19 virus. This was important and necessary. However, this formed a void in providing routine healthcare services and we decided that we could be most effective in providing access for routine healthcare to everyone, during those trying times.
Hemas Hospitals Managing Director Dr. Lakith Peiris
Of course, this meant that we had to ensure the safety of all stakeholders, our patients, doctors and consultants, our healthcare workers, staff, management, visitors and the communities we worked in. It was our goal to negate all risks of the spread of the infection. We set up a COVID taskforce internally and set up stringent operating guidelines above and beyond what was stipulated by the Health Ministry and Epidemiology Unit.
How did you adjust standard approaches to deliver healthcare services and operate effectively during the pandemic lockdown while ensuring the safety and well-being of all?
Hemas Hospitals was the first to innovate new processes to ensure that those facing restrictions due to the lockdown received routine healthcare. In order to provide safe accessibility for the healthcare needs of our patients, the two hospitals together with our laboratory chain responded very quickly by making all our facilities ‘safe’; rolling out global best practices in terms of stringent protocols that boosted the confidence of clinicians and patients to patronise our facilities.
We invested heavily on creating separate observation wards, triage areas outside the hospitals, created secured pathways for COVID testing, a separate area was designed for resuscitation and nebulisation fitted with HEPA filters, training for staff on COVID-19 safety and PPE use, UV disinfectants and many other new processes and infrastructure development that resulted in us not having to turn away even one patient at any point of time. Many other initiatives such as homecare services, labs on wheels, introduction of digitally enabled services, such as telemedicine, online ordering of medicine and home delivery services were rolled out for the convenience of the people.
Our employees jumped right in with us and were supportive of all the measures we took, since they all consider their work as being for a bigger purpose. One of our own even innovated a proprietary Infectious Patient Transportation Chamber (IPTC) - the first of its kind in the world - a sealed, easily manoeuvrable cubicle with wheels to transport suspected or positive COVID-19 patients.
Ultimately, our focus on delivering healthcare while eliminating the risk of COVID spreading resulted in us becoming the only hospital in Sri Lanka to receive the Sri Lanka Standard SLS 1672:2020 certification on ‘COVID-19 safety management systems requirements’.
Has Hemas Hospitals been approached by the MOH to allocate a dedicated COVID-19 treatment ward?
Private hospitals were invited to establish intermediate care centres for asymptomatic patients and those with mild symptoms who desired private healthcare. Hemas Hospitals was one of the first to set up intermediate care centres in partnership with well-established hospitality partners. We have set up five intermediate care centres with fully-fledged in-house high dependency units (HDU) managed by a panel of medical experts, back up ICU treatment facility, 24/7 medical and nursing care, 24/7 ambulance services and coverage by a panel of board-certified specialist consultants and intensivists. Blue Waters Wadduwa, Camelot Negombo, Berjaya Mount Lavinia, Kaya Wellness Resort and Seashine Beach Resort in Uswetakeiyawa are the five intermediate care centres by Hemas Hospitals for COVID-19 patients. We have capacity for 780 patients.
We will continue to add more beds and ICCs to the system for the benefit of the people of Sri Lanka, if a need arises. We should note that amongst our intermediate care centres are budget ICCs, charging rates lower than the Health Ministry has recommended, in order to provide private treatment facilities to a larger cross section of the population.
How has Hemas Hospitals built employee morale and resilience amid the fear and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19?
Our employees are high up on the list of priorities for us as we combat COVID-19 and I am happy to say that we were one of the few organisations that didn’t reduce employee salaries or allowances during the pandemic but in fact added a risk allowance and paid them bonuses both in April and in December though our revenues and profitability were impacted due to lower footfall as a result of the lockdowns.
As an organisation, we made a conscious decision to provide additional welfare facilities for our people despite the decline in revenue at the two hospitals and labs; as employee peace of mind and morale is a higher priority over financial considerations.
We ensured the employees had free meals and transportation in addition to hostel facilities, since we had to roster employees to work in 14-day blocks to minimise the risk of spread of infection. Meanwhile, we made sure that the family members whom they left behind at home were taken care of, giving them dry rations and looking into their needs, while their loved ones carried out their work at our hospitals.
Even as the third wave continues to threaten the welfare of frontline healthcare workers, we have tightened the protective fold around our people, assuring them treatment at our own ICCs, in the unfortunate event of them testing positive to COVID-19. Hemas Hospitals is also providing them free transport, supporting their access to essentials during the lockdown through our vendors and an easy payment scheme, in addition introducing a special financial aid scheme for those who may need it due to the restrictions in place.